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23 December, 2021

Local teachers join strike

The NSW Teachers Federation are demanding that the government take on board the recommendations of the Gallop Inquiry, and for there to be a complete reset to the teaching profession.

By Emily Middleton

After months of warnings, the federation instigated the teacher strike that occurred on Tuesday, December 7.

Around 30 teachers from Gilgandra’s public schools were present at the Dubbo Convention Centre, alongside over 500 teachers from all parts of the west and central western regions.

“There was a really good spread of people from across the central west, because every school is in the same position as us in some capacity,” said Gilgandra High School Teachers Federation representative, Bree Patton.

“All schools around NSW are having trouble filling permanent positions, they’re having issues with the dayto- day casuals, and they’re having to split classes, merge classes, all with minimal supervision.”

Miss Patton explained that both temporary and permanent teaching positions are having to be advertised multiple times, as well as additional monetary incentives being offered to attract suitable applicants.

“Our salary hasn’t had a considerable increase since the introduction of the 2.5 per cent public sector wage cap and the salary increase being proposed by the government is below inflation,” said Miss Patton.

“We don’t have a competitive salary, and this is a major contributing factor as to why we have such huge staffing supply problems.

“Another reason contributing to the shortage of teachers is the changing nature of education. There’s an increased workload. The Gallop Inquiry found that on average, classroom teachers are working 55 hours a week, and principals are working 62 hours a week. The government’s own internal documents also reaffirm this”

Gilgandra Public School was closed on Tuesday, and Gilgandra High School had no more than five students on site. The teacher strike occurred across NSW, with over 350 schools closed for the day.

“In addition to those at the rally, a large percentage of teachers who couldn’t get to Dubbo also took industrial action,” said Miss Patton.

Education minister, Sarah Mitchell, has since responded to the strikes, claiming the union caused more disruption to schools in one day, than COVID-19 did this term.

“In a single day, the union has caused more disruption to our public education system than we’ve seen due to COVID-19 throughout the entirety of this term,” said Ms Mitchell.

“I think it does a real disservice to our hard-working teaching profession. It really is pitting teachers, families, and students against each other.”

The Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) ruled the planned strike illegal just a week prior. However, the strikes still went ahead, with teachers stating it was a result of failed negotiations over the past 18 months.

In February 2020, the NSW Teachers Federation commissioned an independent inquiry into the work of teachers and principals, and how it has changed since 2004. This is known as the Gallop Inquiry.

“It shows that enrollments are rising and the number of people going into teaching degrees is falling. There is an exodus of people in the profession because of the unsustainable working conditions and non-competitive wages,” said Miss Patton.

“It’s detrimental to the students. At the end of the day, it’s tough on us, but it’s worse on them when they have teachers in front of them that aren’t qualified in that area. All students must be taught by an appropriately qualified teacher regardless of their postcode.”

According to the Gallop Inquiry fact sheet, inquiries of this nature were previously conducted as “work value” cases in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission.

“Each case between 1970 and 2004 found significant changes in the work of teachers and adjusted salaries to better reflect their expertise and responsibilities and maintain the attractiveness of the profession. In 2004, teachers were awarded salary increases of 12 to 19.5 per cent.”

Miss Patton, along with other union members from Gilgandra, were proud to be standing up for change.

“It was really empowering seeing how many teachers are feeling the same way about the issues.

“It’s all about solidarity and standing together, and you could really see that. We formed a long train of people walking in Dubbo, and we filled Talbragar Street footpaths for blocks,” said Miss Patton.

Tim Danaher, organiser for the NSW Teachers Federation, has said that the strike was a “big wake up call for the government”.

“If they (the government) are serious about student outcomes then they must act now and ensure that the profession is once again an attractive choice for aspiring university students. This can only be done by addressing workload and stagnating wages.”

Dubbo’s strike started at 10am at the convention centre, where there were a number of key speakers before teachers marched down to the office of member for Dubbo, Dugald Saunders.

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